My Struggle With an Anxiety Disorder + Tips for Living with GAD

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve written this post a dozen times, and they all sit as drafts.

MY STRUGGLE

 

My anxiety story is something that I only share about with people whom I feel need to know about it: my family, my boyfriend, people that I come across who are struggling and need the advice.

After so many years, I’ve realized everyone needs to hear this because in a way, everyone deals with anxiety. Some, like myself, have it in more severe cases where we are diagnosed, seek treatment, and maybe have even taken medication. But the bottom line is, anxiety creeps up on us at different seasons in our life and it’s important to know how you can get better. 

woolly threads - how to have a more productive morning

 

 

I never wanted to share because I always had this silly idea that I wanted people to think I was perfect or “goals” as they say today. A perfectly organized planner? Goals. A beautifully decorated bedroom? Goals. A great blog? Goals. Anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, and panic? Not so much goals.

Today, I’m finally sharing my anxiety story because these past few weeks have really showed me that it’s important to let people know they’re not alone. It’s important to feel like you have a friend (even if I’m miles and miles from you) who gets it.

And then, I want to share with you some things that have really helped me to deal with my anxiety and pursue a beautiful life.

So, I’ll try to keep the story of my anxiety short, but honestly, it started over 10 years ago, so it might be a little lengthy.

When I was really young (like 4 or 5) I was an emotional child. I cried every day when my mom or dad dropped me off at the daycare center at the YMCA so that they could go work out for a couple hours. I cried when the seams on my socks weren’t straight. (We had to buy me seamless socks… yes that’s a thing.) I cried when the tag in my t-shirt itched me. I was scared of birds, bees, heights, elevators, airplanes, tight spaces, and the spinny thing at the playground where you sat on a platform and were pushed round and round and round.

anxiety2

Other than that, I was a pretty happy kid. I laughed just as much as I do now with that same weird cackle that made other people laugh. (Not at my joke, but at the sound of my witch laugh.) But around 3rd and 4th grade I started to develop this early-onset self doubt. I was freaked out that the kids in my class secretly didn’t like me. I was convinced that I was ugly or not popular enough. When my parents would scold me for something small like not cleaning my room I would have a total breakdown thinking that they thought I was a bad kid.

 

So, my mom and dad decided I should talk to the school counselor once a week.

Mrs. T was really nice. The first day I went in she told me I was allowed to cry, scream, yell, and get any emotions out I needed to while in her office. She told me everything I told her was confidential and I didn’t really know what that word meant, but by her sweet smile, I assumed it was a good thing.

I saw her every week for a while and I explained to her that I didn’t feel good enough. That I always had something inside of me that told me I was bad or wrong or ugly. I remember telling her deep down I knew I was a good, strong person because I never got any bad grades on my report card or notes home to my parents from my teachers.

I suppose somewhere in those few weeks, Mrs. T told my parents I should see a psychiatrist. I remember my mom taking me to my pediatrician so that we could get a list of recommendations from her. I never felt bad about having to go to counseling because I really did feel better talking to people besides my parents. I could tell it hurt them to hear me say bad things about myself and it was easier talking to someone who was used to it.

 

I ended up in a dimly lit office with a nice lady who always had red finger nails and her hair in a pixie cut. She was really nice and always seemed to understand what I was saying even when I felt I wasn’t making very much sense. Some days I just talked and she would ask me questions about how I felt about certain things. Other days we did exercises where she would give me a box of markers and some paper and ask me to draw my anxiety. I would always color it gray because that’s how it felt. Like a dark gray cloud that would come over me that I couldn’t see through. Some days she put headphones on me with soft music playing and we would do our sessions normally, but with me listening to the music. I think it was supposed to soothe me, but I felt annoyed because I couldn’t hear well.

anxiety3

Red Finger Nails had me take a few tests. I remember that one was for OCD which seemed like a possibility for me. After we did all the tests, I was told that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’m not sure what month or year this was, but I don’t remember being sad about the diagnosis. (I think I was 9 or 10.) I think I was glad to know that the terrible feeling in my chest and the spinning in my head had a name, and that there was a way to deal with it. 

Around this time, Red Finger Nails must have spoke with my parents about putting me on medication because at our next appointment, she explained to me that I would be seeing an additional doctor aside from her. He was a different kind of doctor because he could prescribe me medication that would help my anxiety.

I didn’t like Dr. Tall’s office as much as Red Finger Nails. His was really big and always busy. I would always have to wait at least two hours before getting in. In the waiting room, there was a big TV that always played Rachel Ray and he only had Parenting magazines – no Seventeen or Tiger Beat. There were always other kids my age in the waiting room. Some were really antsy and would flip through magazines really fast or keep changing the seat they were sitting in and it made me feel nervous.

Dr. Tall was pretty nice. He was more of a business man though and his job wasn’t to ask me about how school was going or how my relationships with my friends were. He would ask yes or no questions like “Do you feel more anxious on this dosage?” “Are you having trouble sleeping?” “Has your appetite gone down?”

The only other thing I didn’t like about Dr. Tall besides the long wait in his office and the lack of teen magazines was that the answer was always more medicine. 

Now – let’s pause right here because this is very important to anyone reading this: There is nothing wrong with taking prescribed medication for any mental disorder. Medicine really helped me to do normally teenager things and to not miss out on experiences.

anxiety 3 For the next 10 years, I took medication to treat my anxiety. Sometimes, I hit a happy spot where I had no side effects and felt great. Sometimes, I had horrible side effects and would only be on a particular medication for a couple weeks before demanding that I be switched. But once again, medication isn’t an evil.

My issue was, I was just always on so much. There was anxiety medicine to treat the anxiety, a different anxiety medicine to help the other, medication for depression to offset any side effects of feeling “down” or “blue”, and eventually, prescription migraine medicine because my other medicine gave me horrible headaches.

So that’s just the medicine part.

For me, anxiety has always come along with stress. When I get nervous or stressed about something, anxiety is mixed in right with those feelings like some horrible cocktail. School has always been something that stirs up my anxiety.

My anxiety also manifests itself in different ways. When I was little, I’d always feel horrible nauseous. I was sure that I was gonna throw up and would spend hours in the bathroom at concerts, school, summer camp, and other places because I had made myself so anxious I felt sick. Sometimes I get horrible chest pain where it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest. The burning will go away if I lie down, so I stay in bed for hours or leave school sick. More recently, I’ve dealt with pain in my lower stomach that either feels like burning, throbbing, or a squeezing pain. I’ve been checked out for endometriosis, I’ve had ultrasounds, I’ve done all sorts of tests for cysts and things like that, but I’m really convinced a lot of it’s anxiety. On probably my 8th visit to the Urgent Care clinic, the doctor looked at me and asked, “Do you think maybe you’re just anxious?” and I just looked at him and told him, “Yes, all my life.”

Now this is kind of a sad story. But I’m telling you all this because I know that if 1,000 people read this blog post today, at least 50% of you know what I’m talking about and are dealing with it, too. Anxiety is different for everyone: it feels different, it’s triggered differently, but the common ground is that it makes you feel horrible like each day is such a giant feat to be accomplished.

On New Year’s Day 2015, I decided I wanted to get off my medication and face my anxiety head on.

I didn’t want to rely on anything or anyone but myself to push against it and rise above it. I went to Dr. Tall and inquired about how I should begin backing off my medication.

He laughed in my face and said I’d be calling him in 3 days begging for my meds back.

So that just made me want to do it even more.

I went back to Arkansas for my second semester of sophomore year, got a new dorm room in a new hall with a roommate who was never there so I pretty much lived alone, and started backing off my meds while taking a full course load.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

*Note: If you’re unhappy with your anxiety medication and would like to back off of it, please consult your doctor. It’s very important that you do it correctly and slowly! It’s a hard process, but extremely worth it if you feel unhappy or like your medicine makes you feel worse. But again, there is nothing wrong with medication if it works for you. It helped me for a long time! 

This is the point in my life when I started looking for anxiety relief. I spent hours reading free books that I downloaded to my iPad. (The best one I found was called “How You Beat Anixety” by Ryan Shaw.) I watched Youtube videos from people who experienced something similar to me and who had tips of how to relieve anxiety in natural ways. I started getting active every day to keep my stress levels balances. I switched to a healthier diet so that I’d have more energy to tackle each day.

Cameron likes to remind me almost weekly that I got off my meds all on my own, but I really could not have done it without him. He was so patient with me and would walk with me for an hour in the freezing cold snow if I needed fresh air and would tuck me in to bed on the nights that I was having a particularly rough time. If I could only give you one piece of advice for dealing with your anxiety, it would be to have someone to lean on. Your mom, your dad, your sister, your best friend, your aunt. I believe God sends us people who can help carry us when we are feeling too down to hold ourselves up.

When I took my last pill on Valentine’s Day of 2015, I knew that it wasn’t the end of my anxiety. I knew that every day I would have to make the choice to continue pushing and relying on myself, God, and the people who love me to fuel me with the happiness and strength I would need.

I won’t lie to you – I still struggle a lot.

Some days, I feel perfect. Other days, I’m overwhelmed before I get out of bed. Some days I feel like anxiety is far far away on a deserted island. Some days I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t shake the panicky feeling in my chest and pit of my stomach. No matter what, there are things I do each day to help myself feel calm and like I can tackle anything.

Get enough sleep 

Your brain produces toxins during the day and the only way to get rid of those toxins is through REM sleep. You need your 7-9 hours. So I may go to bed early and call myself a Grandma for doing so, but there’s a reason.

Get fresh air and get moving

My dad helped me a lot when I decided to get off my meds. He told me that there had been research done to prove that just 20 minutes of light exercise can stop a panic attack or feelings of anxiousness. It’s hard, but when you really start to feel anxious, go to the gym and get on the elliptical for 20 minutes or grab your dog and walk around the block for a bit. The rhythmic movement soothes your body out of it’s panicked state.

Warm liquids help

A warm bath, a hot cup of tea, or both! Warmth soothes the body naturally, so I try to have a cup of tea before bed or take a bath if I’m feeling anxious. Sit and breathe deeply as you do so and you’ll really start to feel better!

Be educated

I watch Ted Talks, listen to podcasts, and watch Youtube videos that help me understand what exactly anxiety is, what is looks like anatomically in my body, and how I can ease it. It’s so soothing for me to do that research, because I feel like sometimes my anxiety comes from uncertainty. Pick up a book or watch a documentary to understand and feel a bit more at ease knowing that this is a chemical imbalance in your body, not rocket science.

Talk to someone

I’m a huge advocate for talk therapy, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it has to be a therapist. Talk to someone you love. Talk to a friend or mentor. Or, yes, even see a therapist. When you feel the anxiety coming on, it’s best to pick up the phone and ask to chat for a bit with that certain person who is a good listener and can really turn your mood brighter.

Know that this is something many, many people deal with. You will get through it.

If you have specific questions or need someone to talk to, I would love for you to email me. (hello@cristinawashere.com)

I can’t say that anxiety and how to deal with it will be a frequent topic on my blog. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed, it’s just that I always like to post positive, uplifting messages that leave you feeling great after reading them. I just felt that it was time that I shared such a huge part of what has shaped me, built me, and helped me to discover my own strength.

I hope you all have a beautiful rest of your week! Thank you for bearing with today’s long post!

X,

Cristina

 

 

  • First of all, Cristina, I’m SO proud of you for sharing your story. It was beautifully written and I know it will help so many people. Second, this quote basically made me cry… “I believe God sends us people who can help carry us when we are feeling too down to hold ourselves up.” because it’s SO TRUE. I know what you mean when you said that you always want to be “goals” and I feel the exact same way. The pressure to be the “perfect blogger” is definitely real but I think posts like this are super important to let everyone know that we’re just normal people and students dealing with our own struggles.

    I hope you have a great Thursday and have so much fun with Cameron this weekend! xo

    • cristina

      Thank you so much Kayla! Love having supportive friends like you – it definitely brightens any day, good or bad! 🙂

  • Proud of you for sharing your story! For me, talking about my anxiety makes me super tense. 🙂 it’s nice to know we aren’t alone though and I applaud you for telling your story because they’re all different.

    • cristina

      Thank you so much, Bree!

  • Thank you for sharing, Cristina! Your story is amazing, and its soooo cool that you’ve worked so hard to overcome your anxiety. As someone who also dealt with extreme anxiety at times, I’m glad you shared your story so people will know they aren’t alone. Such a great post!

    • cristina

      Thanks so much Kenzie, that means a lot!

  • You are so brave, Cristina. If anything I still think you are more *goals* by sharing this and being so open about it. I definitely have a lot of anxiety, although I haven’t gotten treatment for it. I’ve always had it, and it really got to me when you were describing the things that irritated you as a child because that’s what bothered me as well. I REALLY could have used some seamless socks and saved my parents from a few of my crying fits. I haven’t sought help mostly because I have my parents who I can vent to constantly, but there are other things like my slight OCD (which I have been told I have) that I probably should look into therapy because it increases my anxiety as well. I’ve always been open to therapy, but never actually knew anyone who went (or was at least open to sharing that they went and their experience). This is such an amazing post, because even if someone doesn’t struggle from any anxiety disorder, they still have stress and anxiety at some point. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and I’m so proud of you for realizing that you wanted to take control of things when you felt your medication was no longer helping you and that doctor laughed in your face. (That’s NOT professional…) Anyway, great post. And if you also ever need to talk definitely reach out 🙂

    xo
    Sami
    http://www.theclassicbrunette.com

    • cristina

      Thank you so much Sami! You’re comment is so sweet!

  • Thank you for sharing this about you on the blog! I love the quote you used and definitely believe in it!

  • What an inspiring post! I’m so proud that you had the courage to share your story! I haven’t been diagnosed with anxiety but have definitely experienced it, especially with in the past couple of months. I’ve had my own issues and have come to 100% believe that God gives you people to help you through your struggles. You are one of my favorite bloggers because you’re SO honest and you don’t hide what everyday life is like for you. You’re authentic and you inspire me to be more authentic as well!

    Have a wonderful weekend with Cam, and thank you again for sharing. Have a wonderful day!

    Ashley

    • cristina

      Wow Ashley that’s such a huge compliment – thank you!!! You are so very sweet, thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  • I have good bumps! I basically wrote the same post on the blog today… You’re so lucky that your parents too you to see someone so young! Mine went untreated until after some major tragedies at 17. I know how difficult it is to write a post like this and I am so happy that MBN brought us together Cristina <3 If you ever needs anything or just want to vent, I am here!

    Rachel | http://www.theconfusedmillennial.com

    • cristina

      Thank you so much Rachel! So glad to be following your amazing blog 🙂

  • Amy

    Can I please give you a computer hug?!? *BIG HUGS* I’m so proud of you for 1. sharing this story with us 2. taking a step every day to better yourself. Although I am not diagnose with anxiety, I can definitely relate to a lot of the things you mentioned. It’s been so great to get to know you through social media and through your blog. So glad I came across your blog and I can tell that wonderful things are in store for you!

    I hope you have a wonderful day girl!
    xoxo
    Amy | Pastel N Pink

  • thank you so much for sharing your story it was so touching and I loved reading it. I really love the quote you used!

    http://xoxobella.com

  • I think it is great that you are opening up and sharing your story. I think attempting to try and be #goals is so silly, what is really attractive is real people who can own that they aren’t perfect. Living and thriving with anxiety is SO much more admirable than someone with a perfect picture of a fake life.

    I know I’ve struggled with anxiety and while I’ve never been on medication I can appreciate your choice to take it for a short time. It is impressive you decided to stop taking medication and you were able to stick with it! I know your story will help others with anxiety out there!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your struggle with us! Such a brave thing to do. I’m glad you’ve found ways that help you with your anxiety and that it will continue to get easier for you!

    Greta | http://www.gretahollar.com

  • Alison

    Cristina, this post was absolutely AMAZING. You summed up what anxiety feels like so so well. I realized when I was about 14 that I had general and social anxiety but when I look back I can see traces of my social anxiety from my earliest memories. You writing that you went through that even when you were little is very reassuring to me – I always feel like I’m the only one. I know I’m not, but it feels that way. I think that’s a big part of anxiety as a whole – we know it isn’t real, but it feels that way. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for being an amazing human 🙂

    xo, Alison
    http://www.beautyandblazers.com

  • This post was great! Thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable. You’re right anxiety hits everyone differently and it’s an ongoing struggle. I have dealt with my fair share of anxiety over my lifetime. From time to time, it becomes a bit much to handle and I want to hide under the covers all day. But a warm drink always helps for me and maybe a coloring page or too! Amazing post!

  • Such an inspiring and educational post! Thank you so much for being so honest and open. I’m so glad you shared your story!

  • MASSIVE kudos to you for sharing something so personal. I know this will help anyone struggling with anxiety and though I don’t know you am proud at how far you’ve come xxx

  • I’ve struggled with anxiety as well throughout my life. I admire you for sharing your story on your blog. <3

    xoxo A
    http://www.southernbelleintraining.com

  • It was so brave of you to share this. I’ve always had anxiety, but it got really bad when I was in college and I was diagnosed with GAD. Going to therapy and taking a small dose of anti anxiety medication has been incredible for me. I will definitely have to try some of your tips as well!

    Kristin
    The Blush Blonde

  • First of all, I APPLAUD you for opening up about this experience, it’s definitely not easy to be so exposed on the internet. I think that it’s great that you’re learning to handle your anxiety, with or without medication, as long as you’re feeling better, I think that it’s fantastic!
    Rebecca
    http://www.sunnyrebecca.com

  • You are SO BRAVE for sharing this awesome post and I am 100% positive that this will help others that are struggling too. My anxiety is weird – I have it randomly in grocery stores when I’m alone, or walking to my car, etc. sometimes I have it and other times I don’t. It is very strange. I can’t imagine having anxiety everyday. Next time I have it, I am definitely taking these tips into consideration!

  • Wow, Cristina. Thanks for sharing. While this is something I’ve never had to deal with, I appreciate learning and hearing your story to help others in my life who are going through this. You’re so brave for sharing your story, stay positive! XO, Nicole

  • This was beautiful. I’m so glad you decided to share your story because you are so inspirational. Thank you for writing everything out for us, and for offering to be there for people who may need someone. I dated someone once who had anxiety, so I can kind of comprehend your situation. It’s amazing what a partner can do to help you in times of need. You are so lucky to have someone like Cameron. I hope you have fun with him this weekend!

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  • I needed to read this right now. I’ve been depressed for years but my new anti-depressants are helping. The only side effect is that they make me a lot more anxious. Thank you for writing this post. It’s nice to know that they are accomplished people like you who suffer from mental illnesses.